When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.
Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.
In a few days’ time, my country will hold a referendum on whether to stay inside the European Union or to leave it. I am fairly convinced that the outcome will be a victory for the ‘leave’ camp. London and Scotland will vote to stay in, the UK as a whole will vote to leave (led by those parts that have benefited most from EU membership), and a second referendum on Scottish independence will probably follow, in which case Scotland will almost certainly vote to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU. England will be left behind with the relatively impoverished Wales and Northern Ireland – both of which will lose their EU funding, as will the economically marginal parts of England that the London-based government will continue to do its best to ignore, as it has done for many years.
Okay, so I’ve posted only twice in the last six months, and both times I was posting my grief over dead rock stars. Posting it late, as well – I did the ‘oh man I’m so sad’ thing first on commercial social media sites, then turned up here long afterwards to make a more public statement that fewer people are likely to read.
On the other hand, I’ve had a big internet hit (as academic internet things go) with an article I published on another site with a couple of people I’m lucky to know.
So the question is, why bother with a blog? A few years ago, when I started this thing, I thought I knew the answer: putting all my writing here, I could show how various parts of it fitted together. Does that work?
“Cool means being able to hang with yourself,” he says. “All you have to ask yourself is ‘Is there anybody I’m afraid of? Is there anybody who if I walked into a room and saw, I’d get nervous?’ If not, then you’re cool.”
Dammit, Prince, I miss knowing you were there.
Femme fatales emerged from shadows
To watch this creature fair;
Boys stood upon their chairs
To make their point of view.
I smiled sadly for a love I could not obey;
Lady Stardust sang his songs
Of darkness and dismay.
I spent a fortnight looking for the right words. Today, I realised you’d already written them, before I was born.
The first peer-reviewed journal article arising from the Valuing Electronic Music project has now been published in Cultural Trends as part of a special issue on empirical research into cultural value guest-edited by Dave O’Brien. It focuses on a key finding of the project: even though musicians can now distribute their music for free via the internet, their real-world location remains hugely important. Through qualitative research, we found that electronic musicians in London (a) considered themselves to benefit from being based in that city, and (b) considered a particular part of that city (the highly gentrified, ‘hipsterish’ district of Shoreditch and its immediate surroundings) to be particularly advantageous for less commercial kinds of music. Through quantitative research, we found SoundCloud users based in London to occupy a position at the centre of a network of ‘following’ relationships in which the next best locations appeared to be New York and Los Angeles. Our findings are consistent with the view that the 21st century ‘new media’ produce similar exclusions to the ‘big media’ of the 20th century and do not create anything resembling a level playing field between signed and unsigned artists, provincial and metropolitan scenes, or the developed and the developing world.
The article is open access so please download the full text to read for yourself.
Allington, D., Dueck, B., and Jordanous, A. (2015). ‘Networks of value in electronic music: SoundCloud, London, and the importance of place’. Cultural Trends 24 (3): pp. 211-222.
In a powerful essay cheekily posted on the website of what may be the UK’s most obsessively corporate university, Suman Gupta bluntly asserts that ‘[t]here is no place for leaders in academia.’ (2015, parag. 1) As he observes, once academics-turned-administrators begin ‘imposing some Great Order… by managing and strategising and propaganda, seeking compliance and exercising opaque executive prerogatives, they start killing off academic work’ (2015, parag. 2). With its recent series of questionable management initiatives, from concentration of resources on bureaucratically-selected ‘strategic research areas’ to development of a (second) free MOOC platform on its paying students’ tab, Gupta’s employer must certainly have provided him with ample opportunity to judge the truth of this proposition. But the relevance of his critique is much wider than a single institution, as we see from the tragic case of Stefan Grimm: a highly successful medical researcher who committed suicide whilst being threatened over his failure to meet arbitrary funding targets (see Parr 2014). While the killing off of scholarly work does not invariably mean the killing off of scholarly workers, it is clear that, across the UK, the term ‘academic leadership’ is ‘now unequivocally taken [to mean] “management of academic workers and institutions from above”’, and those that practise it have come to be ‘regarded as being worth more than academics of any sort.’ (Gupta 2015, parag. 5) In his last words to his colleagues, the late Prof. Grimm put it more forcefully, describing his employing institution in terms that at least some readers of this article may find resonant: as he saw it, it had become ‘a business with very few up in the hierarchy… profiteering and the rest of us… milked for money’, wherein the ‘formidable leaders’ that do the milking ‘treat us like shit.’ (Grimm 2014, parags. 12, 10, 16, reproduced in Parr 2014) It hardly needs pointing out that there has never been an attempt to demonstrate that academic work benefits from ‘leadership’ in the sense described by Gupta and Grimm: top-down control by target-setting, HR-sanctioned procedural bullying, and ‘strategic vision’. The drive for ‘leadership’ is, rather, part of an ideologically motivated investment in management at the expense of labour, clearly seen in the ballooning of executive salaries, both inside and outside educational institutions, during an age of so-called ‘austerity’.
Daniel Allington, Anna Jordanous, Byron Dueck
This project began with Pierre Bourdieu’s argument that cultural value is a form of belief. Drawing on Marcel Mauss’s work in the anthropology of religions, Bourdieu (1993 ) argued that a painting or a poem is a sort of fetish: that is, a ‘magical’ artefact whose special status derives from the fact that believers hold it to be magical. So, for Bourdieu, cultural production involves not only the production of artefacts, but also the production of belief in the value of those artefacts. It’s easy to see how this would apply to what Bourdieu called the ‘field of large scale production’, i.e. the commercial culture industries: big businesses such as major record labels and Hollywood film studios invest both in the production of what is now called ‘content’ and in advertising and other forms of publicity through which to generate demand for that content. But what most interested Bourdieu was what he called the ‘field of restricted production’ or the ‘field of art and literature’, which puts little emphasis on the audience, is embarrassed by excessive commercial success, and appears to operate on the principle of ‘art for art’s sake’.
Last month, I was invited to speak at a Sociological Review symposium on Music and Social Networks, hosted by the Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis and organised by Nick Crossley, the author of Networks of sound, style, and subversion: the punk and post-punk worlds of Manchester, London, Liverpool and Sheffield, 1975–80 (MUP, 2015). It was a brilliant event, and I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing. As I was extemporising from slides, I don’t have any proper notes to put up here – but I do at least have the livetweets. So here they are. They’re a pretty good record of a lot of my main points, provided you read ‘@dr_d_allington did X’ as ‘@dr_d_allington and his colleagues did X’ whenever the topic is music, and remember that those colleagues were the brilliant Anna Jordanous and Byron Dueck (or do I mean @annajordanous and @ByronRDueck?). I’ve inserted comments on the tweets where necessary.
I haven’t had time to work on this blog for a long time. In the meantime, various things have happened. Here are three of them:
- The decision to dismiss Casey Brienza from her post at City University was overturned on appeal last September. See the petition for details.
- I got a new job, this time in digital cultures rather than linguistics, at the University of the West of England.
- My paper on social networks, cultural value, and interactive fiction / text adventure games is once again forthcoming, but not from where I originally thought it was going to come forth from.
The list could (and probably should) go on, even if limited (as per usual for this blog) to non-personal issues. But I still haven’t got time.
That said, it’s good to be posting again. And to have a new theme for the website.
See you around.